Many sports fans have a love-hate relationship with the media who cover their favorite teams. But while enjoying Major League Baseball's 79th All-Star Game this Tuesday, you might want to raise a toast to former newspaperman Archibald Burdette Ward.
To find out why, let's go back in time 75 years...
It's 1933 and Chicago Mayor Ed Kelly is worried. The city is hosting the "Century of Progress" World's Fair and America is in the grips of a crushing depression. Kelly needs something new, something big and exciting to draw crowds reluctant to part with what little extra income they have. Out of ideas, he turns to his longtime friend, Chicago Tribune publisher Colonel Bertie McCormick. McCormick, in turn, introduces the mayor to Arch Ward, 36-year-old sports editor known less for his prose than his big ideas and influential connections. A born promoter who'd honed his PR skills in college as Knute Rockne's publicist, Ward comes up with the idea of a "Dream Game" pitting the stars of the National League against the best players from the American League. It will be a one-time event held either at Comiskey Park or Cubs Park (a coin flip would later send the game to Comiskey).
Given its popularity today, it's surprising how much resistance Ward's idea of a "Dream Game" encountered. Ward sensed baseball commish Kenesaw Mountain Landish would table the proposal, so he wisely went straight to the league presidents. The American League owners took some convincing, and the National League owners were even more reluctant to participate, even though Ward had smooth talked his employer The Chicago Tribune into underwriting all financial risks involved with no chance of making a profit - those would go to charity.
Originally, the all-star rosters were to be selected by readers of the Chicago Tribune, but when sports editors got wind of Ward's plans, their protests forced him to expand the balloting to 56 newspapers around the country, making the selection process a truly national event. Over 500,000 mail-in ballots were returned, with baseball fans voting in future Hall of Famers like Joe Cronin, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Charlie Gehringer, Babe Ruth and Al Simmons. Tickets, ranging in price from 55 cents to $1.65, sold out in two days.
CHICAGO - JULY 6, 1933: Babe Ruth crosses home plate as teammate Lou Gehrig waits to congratulate him during the first inaugural All-Star game at Comiskey Park. (Photo by National Baseball Hall of Fame Library/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
On the fine summer day of July 6, 1933, a capacity crowd of nearly 48,000 crammed Comiskey to see what was to be a one-time meeting of baseball's best. Babe Ruth, already a legend at age 38, didn't let the fans down, hitting a two run homer into right field - the home run ball recently sold at auction for over $800,000 - and later making the decisive defensive play in the 8th inning.
The game was a success on every level. And though AL president Will Harridge resisted the idea of making it an annual event for fear it would become "just another ballgame", it was clear baseball had a winner on its hands. With the exception of 1945, when travel limits were imposed due to WWII, the game has been held every year since.
Arch Ward would become known as the "Cecil B. DeMille of Sports" for creating not just baseball's summer spectacle, but Golden Gloves boxing, the College Football All-Star game, and a precursor to the National Football League. He attended twenty-one MLB All-Star games in his lifetime, and was buried on the morning of the All-Star game in 1955. The game was delayed for his funeral. Starting in 1962, the MVP of the midseason classic was honored with the Arch Ward Memorial Award, a trophy later re-named for pitcher Ted Williams.
SAN FRANCISCO - JULY 10, 2007: American League All Stars in the dug out during the 78th Major League Baseball All-Star Game. (Photo by Rich Pilling/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
The All-Star game has gone through many changes over the years, and since the introduction of inter-league play in 1997, it's no longer a rare chance to see greats from the AL and NL go head-to-head. Various controversies have affected the game - ballot stuffing, the notorious 2002 11th inning tie. Some feel that homerun derbies and related events have turned the tradition into an over-hyped sideshow, but with a record 20 million people casting ballots in 2008, the All-Star Game seems as popular as ever.
Arch Ward's "Dream Game" is clearly here to stay.
*How, you may ask, is the 79th annual All-Star game being played only 75 years after the midsummer classic's creation? The discrepancy is due to the fact that from 1959 to 1962, two All-Star Games were played each summer. Subtract for the 1945 game cancelled because of WWII, and there you have it.
MLB All-Star Game Participants Who've Recently Passed
Edward P. Vargo
Thomas Joseph Byrne